Monday, November 23, 2009

Biz, blessings & a martini

AvantGarb has been a growing, productive business for a really long time.

I started AvantGarb in my Berkeley, California garage when my youngest daughter was about 3 months old.

Month after month AvantGarb has made a profit and those dollars have increased through the years.

AvantGarb is a real, ongoing operation.

Even though we get grow each and every year, get more marvelous clients, are able to hire extraordinary people, and have moved to jazzy new digs. Even though I've been paying my mortgage, clothing my children, going on vacations, buying shoes, getting my hair done and my eyebrows tamed, I still think, it could be over tomorrow.

This is crazy thinking.

When I am sitting with a curved needle, stitching yellow muppet fleece to green fur, I have taken to counting my blessing.

Here are some of them:
  • I have a really grand family. They keep me involved and interested in their lives. My husband is funny, handsome and sexy. My daughters are gorgeous and glorious
  • I  love my biz - making fuzzy critters that add a great dollop of fun to the landscape.
  • I've traveled everywhere--okay, not everywhere, but a lot of places - Kenya, India, China, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, Taiwan, Egypt, and oh yeah, Europe. I feel fluent in the world. I like to be places where I can't speak the language.
  • ... however, I can speak Spanish, stutter through French and be polite in Swahili
  • Every Monday I look forward to the week ahead.
  • I interact with a wide and varied creative community of mascot people, art people, writers and imagineers.
  • Every Friday I come home to a really good martini.
  • I love going to church on Sundays, singing hymns w/ the congregation, listening to the sermon and being blessed for the coming week with the benediction.
  • I love reading the New York Times and napping on couch on Sunday afternoons.
  • I have gotten bit of fame for doing what I do.
  • ...and I have magnificent friends. Some I've had for most of my life, some I've only just met
I am truly blessed. I have imagined my life, and it became real.

I suspect the story of other small biz people is similar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Big, Big, Cigarette

See the cigarette, check out the Great American Smoke out video. This Cigarette is one of ours.

When we got the job to make the really, really big, wearable cigarette, I had to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes. We needed to custom-dye the filter fabric, and needed a color sample.

Then, we had to light cigarettes so that we could understand how the ash bent when it burned. 

This was a wonderful project. Making ash on a giant cigarette from fabric, sequins and open cell, charcoal, filter foam is a pretty swell project.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Girl Tools

In my tool rack, we have bunches of hammers---ok, 2 or 3 and a mallet, but in the swirl of mascot-making hammers, screwdrivers, scissors, rulers get lost, hide under fur, get involved w/ the velcro, sidle up to the sequins.

Several years ago we made some Glamor Hammers for special, hard-working clients. They were hammers, with spray painted gold heads, bunches of sequins and feather boas. One of the hammers found its way to the tool rack. For a few months, the Glamor Hammer was the only poundy thing we had. Its pretty, but not tough---but it still pounds, I think.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The World Serious

Phanatic in NYC

I'm torn. Who to root for in this Wold Series (or as my father calls it, the World Serious), the Yanks or the Phillies?

I grew up in NYC, got married in NYC, my first daughter was born in NYC and I went to my first game, a Yankees game, in the Bronx!

Before going to my first Yankees game, I had been to bunches of plays on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. I had spent hours hanging out with friends at the Museum of Modern Art and I had gone to see art & performance pieces in galleries in SoHo (way back in the day, when there were galleries in SoHo).

In NYC, there is a sense that keeping track of the Art Scene is like watching a contact sport. There is an ever-changing roster of players, there are minor leagues and major leagues.

When I started watching the Yankees, I saw them as characters in a play, or an art performance. I have maintained that Sport-as-Art-Performance sensibility.

Oh gosh, I can sense you sports guys cringing!

...and I make mascots.
Who do I root for?
The Phillies have a mascot. The Yankees don't.
Both teams have great characters and great costumes. Both teams have a sense of drama.
Hmmm...hard to say.

It's a great World Serious.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Patterns are Co-mingling

  • Patterns have been piling up and co-mingling.
  • We're completely out of open-cell foam.
  • We have a the smallest smidgeon of muppet fleece.
  • There is only 1 curved needle in the whole place 
  • and Max is flirting with Fluffy!
How did things get to this state? Well, it's been a busy season. We have designed a herd of mascots. We've patterned big bodies, cobbled big shoes, cut, stitched, sculpted and stuffed. 

24 cube boxes have been packed and sent. Even the loading dock guys are impressed. 
The swirl of activity is completely thrilling.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Either way, we both have great taste

I was watching Joan Baez - the great folk singer, political activist and tenderhearted woman - on TV the other night.

She was asked, "How do you choose your songs?" Baez answered, "The songs find me or I find the songs. Either way, we both have great taste"
I love the sense that ideas, songs, dreams find us.

The mascots found me. I imagine a gang of brightly colored mascots with big, big mascot bellies walking down the street, knocking on my door and making it clear that they have chosen me to bring them to life., the mascots found me, or I found the mascots. Either way, its been a great ride.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Tender Heart for Mascots

Sometimes creation just buzzes along at AvantGarb. We have enough of the right foam to build the body, we have plenty of the right kind of helmets to put inside the heads, we have the fur, the right shapes for the eyes and the right color soles for the mascot shoes. We have plenty of time to get the mascot done, everybody is in top mental and physical shape, and the tunes on the CD player are just the right tunes.

Sometimes the music is wrong, we have 3, but not 4 helmets for the 4 mascot we're making, the right-sized eyes for 3 and a half mascots and enough fur for everything but the paws. Someone has a pulled nerve and can only sew standing up and someone else sound like one big germ on the phone, and I beg her not to come in.

There always a time in both the projects that go smoothly, and the projects that have a few ohmygoodness, panic moments when I fall completely in love with the character we are creating. It always happens. I will look at the nose I have just finished and my heart will melt, because it is a beautiful, big, fuzzy nose and it just warms my soul, and I know it will warm the souls of all who see it---it could be the ears, a tuft of hair---the shoes. Something will click in my heart, and I know we are about to send a great, big, bundle of fun out into the wider world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Mascot's Summer Adventures

Mascot don't talk but lots of them are manic twitterers, and one of them, Little Jake, likes to send emails w/ pics to his creators!

Here's Little Jake's, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, note home:

Dear Jennifer (or should I technically call you "Mom" since you created me?):

I thought you told me that during the first few months of any newborn's life, the people around you do all the work and the baby just lays around looking cute and being doted upon.

Well apparently E&B Paving didn't get that memo.

Have I ever been busy this summer...and I'm only a few months old! What happened to that grace period you promised me??? My summer "vacation" started when those guys from E&B trotted me out to Carmel's Rock the District festival where you can see that I was quite the hit with the ladies (OK, so that part of being a mascot is pretty cool) and I even appeared on stage to warm up the crowd before the headliner music act (Little Jake rocks! Eat your heart out Mike Jagger...). Check me out on the E&B asphalt paving equipment (rollin', rollin', rollin', keep that asphalt rollin'...).

Then, they pulled me from the comfortable confines of my customized duffle bags where I was snoozing peacefully and took me up to Peru, Indiana for that town's annual circus parade. I walked the parade route and was definitely more popular than the circus tiger (could it have been because I handed out E&B lollipops to the kids while the tiger just laid in his cage looking bored by the whole event?).

And if that weren't enough to exhaust a newborn mascot, I became the centerpiece of an advertisement that E&B created to demonstrate their support of Scecina High School's athletic teams. Uh huh, that's right, notice who's standing next to the cheerleaders (Little Jake can be one suave fellow).

OK, so I've been a rock star, a parade attraction, and a magazine model...not bad for a youngster. I may need a new pair of those size 14 shoes before long at the rate E&B is going -- my feet are getting tired from all of these appearances.

Hope you have had as much fun this summer as I have had hanging out with all of my new friends and spreading goodwill about E&B Paving.

Your pal,

Little Jake

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2 Trucks, 6 Strong Men - The Move

Like all moves, this one was took time, haphazard planning, luck and hard labor.

We packed rolls of: sequins, fuzz, feathers, 7 sewing machines, the bandsaw, 4 worktables (taken apart & put together again on the same day ), tools, scissors, rotary blades, and, or course, googlie eyes. Foam boing-ed out of the boxes, pins were swept off the floor and the mascot "wall of fame" was disassembled.

It took: 2 movingtrucks, 6 strong men, the phone guy, the sewing machine guy, the GarbGang, husband & bro-in-law to move into our new studio. We went into a gorgeous, empty space, filled it up and transformed it into a mascot studio.

Tonie, our feng shui visionary, knows how to create order from chaos. I put objects---sewing machines and bunches of this and that wherever they fit. Tonie takes the whole space in and knows what goes where, how the make the space navigable and right.

Some of the GarbGang w/ Peter,
our swimsuit mannequin. That's me, protecting his modesty, Tonie w/ the pink hard hat, and Cat looking grand.

...and it is right. While I dithered, and worked with a visiting mascot performer, it all fell into place. The wall of fame is re-stored and re-vitalized. Mascots are getting made.

I look at this remarkable business that I started a couple of decades ago, in my Berkeley, CA garage
, and I'm filled with a kind of awe and wonder. At the time I really didn't know what I had started. Now it's a great little biz in a wonderful spot in the world., AvantGarb started in a California garage to a studio at the Stutz- We're building mascots where Stutz Bearcat cars used to be manufactured! Where there was steel, we have foam, where there was chrome we use fluff! Bearcat Alley runs through the middle of the building. The building wan built on dreams and hard work.

AvantGarb Inc
212 W. 10th St.
Studio B-295
Indianapolis, IN 46202


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Griff waits for the season to begin!

...okay, we love the Griff---the mascot for the Grand Rapids Griffins Hockey.

Here's a link to the Griff's newest video.

Isn't he the handsomest mascot on skates?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stutz Bearcats & Mascots

This is AvantGarb's new studio before all the fuzz, fluff, foam & mascots move in!!

We will be making mascots where Stutz used to build cars. We're moving the the old Stutz Bearcat building in September. The new studio is big, light and downtown.

We will be surrounded by a huge creative community, artists, ad agencies, urban planners, photographers.

This is familiar territory for me. Way back in the 80's, I had a studio @ PS 1 in Long Island City. I was at PS 1 when artists were awarded studios for a year. I had an old classroom as my studio. It was a grand year. Now PS1 is part of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA),

The Stutz fills a role similar to the old PS1. However, the creative community is larger and more diverse. There are artists, and creative businesses---a great mix from scruffy to elegant.

... and the building is huge---the freight elevators are enormous they will hold
herds, flocks, multitudes of mascots!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Winging It!

Winging it at AvantGarb!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Really Good Looking Tomato

Its the Year of the Tomato at the Indiana State Fair.

...and the Indiana State Fair is the quintessential State Fair for this urban girl.

I always have a pork burger from the pork producers and some vanilla ice cream from the dairy people. I check out what the 4-H-ers are up to.

I have learned that poultry are exotic birds and that horses are really big!

This year is going to be especially grand because AvantGarb made Stewie the Tomato mascot for RedGold. RedGold is in the Farm Bureau Building.

The State Fair starts on August 7th!


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fuzz & Foam: Marketing with mascots

The large, plasma screen with a video of Rex the Dinosaur dancing and miming has to be cleaned several times a day because so many children touch and kiss the screen.

Rex is the mascot for the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Rex is tall and round with a rainbow belly and a really big tail. Rex gets lotsa love!

Rex is "woven into every thread" of the museum's marketing says, Lisa Townsend, VP of Marketing. He is a vibrant, everyday part of the museum's interaction with its guests.

Rex welcomes children and families to the museum. When it's time to close the museum, Rex has the "Rex Parade". Starting at the top floor of the museum, Rex leads the Rex parade down the ramp and out the door. Children wave flags and skip out of the museum, feeling quite happy and important because they were in the Parade!

What kind of Return on Investment does a mascot really bring?

There are some ways to measure this. You can tally how many mascot plushes/shirts/caps are sold at the store and online. But mascots really bring more than simply dollars out and dollars in return on investment. They bring brand loyalty.

When a mascot is around everyone in the mascots range becomes part of each other's community. Mascot mean fun. When your brand is connected with fun and community, your mascot is making friends, and the mascots friends become friends of the brand, and friends of the brand become, well, loyal customers

Your target audience is forever expanding when a mascot enters the picture.

Pharaoh Rex
at the opening of the Tut Exhibit
@ the Chidren's Museum of Indianapolis

Monday, July 6, 2009

Warm Fuzzies & Cold Beer

They may seem funny and well, goofy, but Aha! A mascot is a true, heartfelt marketing tool. This is the organization's representative. The piece of the marketing puzzle that really touches the customer and fan.

They're goofy and yet, they represent brands of integrity and strength. Brands that truly want bring people together in community and goodwill.

When people have a rollicking, good time in the presence of a mascot, they look at the brand the mascot represents with kind eyes and an open heart.Mascot are the warm fuzzies of marketing! They reach out to target audiences with enthusiasm. Mascots invite all to be part of the family in an open, non-ironic way.

I have a cabinet full of RedGold products. I only use Dawn to wash dishes at home and at the AvantGarb. This summer, when we drink beer, it will be Miller and fans at Portland Beaver games will be inclined to buy Miller this summer after seeing the Miller Racing Beer Cans race.

I'm completely loyal to TiVo, Who wouldn't want a Tivo after seeing the TiVo character's antics at marathons and the ball park?...and I cheers all teams and schools with mascots.

I cheer on the Davita KAT Walks, I love driving on E&B Paving's newly paved roads---well, you get the picture.

Mascots are the beating heart of marketing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Attitude is Cutitude!

A Beary, Beary Cute Bear!

Does he need a Blackbeary?

This is a bear for a children's hospital. The goal was to make him look understanding, trustworthy, upstanding, sympathetic, soulful and well---sweet.

Oh yeah, and he has a giant, soft sculpture stethoscope.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mascots don't talk but they sure know how to write!

Every one knows that mascots don't talk. Mascots are the American Kabuki. However, we just sent a mascot out into the world who is turning into a voracious writer.
Today I got an email from Little Jake, the mascot for E&B Paving.

Enjoy Jake's first epistle:
Dear Jennifer and Amy:

I made lots of new friends today when I visited E&B's corporate headquarters in Anderson. The CEO and VPs really thought I looked kind of sexy even if my coveralls made my butt look big, the staff enjoyed it when I visited their offices and swapped high-fives, Chuck read a speech about how I'm now part of E&B's branding (I didn't understand what he was talking about because I have no brain...just foam), and Jason made sure that all of my whopper snaps were securely fastened and that my hard hat didn't mess up my hair. It really was a lot of fun, especially having a valet at my disposal to help me get dressed and walk through the hallways.

So now that I've come out of the closet (or perhaps more appropriately "out of the duffel bags"), the guys from E&B think I'm going to turn some heads at upcoming events. They already have me scheduled to attend a golf outing on Thursday, a 4th of July parade and some other events. Geez! What's a mascot to do for a little rest and relaxation! I mean, c'mon, I know I'm one foam-filled fun machine, but even a guy like me needs to kick back and enjoy a refreshing beverage every now and then...oops, maybe not...on second thought, refreshing beverages make you want to pee and I have no zipper and then there'd be a mess and Jennifer would need to make me a new set of coveralls and...OK, I'll stop now cuz you get the picture.

Anyway, thanks for all of your help in bringing me to life.

Your Pal,

Little Jake

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fruit Salad!

Yippee! Summer!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Muscles & mascots

For a long time we had the cover from a muscle magazine on our wall. The big story was "6 Ways to Bulk Up".

The AvantGarb 6 ways to Bulk Up:
  1. Foam
  2. Foam
  3. Foam
  4. Foam
  5. Foam
  6. Foam
We call our muscled mascots: WonderBoys, Pec Boy, Fabio Chest, Miracle Man, Super Man and Ohmygoodnesslookatthosemuscles Guy!

Here's one of our muscled mascots, JAWZ. IUPUI's* mascot. He's pretty popular!*Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis---quite a name!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fat Mascots Dance!

Ya gotta love the mascots!

I'm grateful that I'm surrounded by this fuzzy silliness every day.

We were thinking about what fun it would be to have a buncha fat mascots dancing to Beyonce's
"Single Ladies"


Thursday, April 23, 2009

In an interview @ AvantGarb's studio, I talk about the how, where and why of mascots and a bit of how the heck i got into the mascot biz!